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  • LocationZambia
  • SectorMultiple Sectors
  • Type of investmentGrant
  • Project stagePilot

A $230,000 grant to IDinsight in Zambia to pilot and test an innovative approach to building information systems to track progress on issues immediately and directly relevant to citizens, such as health, education or agriculture. The approach – Nano Information Systems – will produce cheaper, faster, and more user-friendly information systems to ensure better execution on the ground and improved performance of local level officials.


The development problem.

Arguably one of the biggest challenges in development is weak state capacity. In particular, public systems suffer from weakness in execution of policy. This is made worse in the absence of proper decision support for frontline officials, which is crucial for effective execution.

Cheap, accurate, timely, and relevant data are scarce. Attempts to address this have been confined to large, top-down management information systems (MIS) which help provide aggregate monitoring support, but not executional decision-support.

Although information systems are recognised as effective solutions to this problem, most MIS efforts fail. Successful MIS efforts tend to be small, flexible and context-specific. It is rare to find a well-functioning MIS, especially in a public sector developing country context.

The innovation.

Nano Information System is a decision-support system for frontline officials to improve the quality of policy execution. It is a ‘process innovation’ that changes the approach to building information systems by using a fast, cheap, and flexible design, concentrating on a limited number of priority outcomes, on issues immediately and directly relevant to citizens, and which emerge in a bottom-up manner reflecting the needs of frontline staff.

The bet that IDinsight is making through the Nano process is that it can produce cheaper, faster, and more user-friendly information systems for use by frontline officials in low-capacity settings to help improve last-mile implementation of priority policies, especially those which directly impact the daily lives of citizens. Importantly, both the Nano process itself and the resulting information system products (depending on the use case) will improve state capability.

GIF's investment.

During the pilot, the objective of GIF funding is to support IDinsight to create a functioning IS system and process for one chiefdom in Zambia that is ready to be replicated elsewhere.

The pilot will provide evidence and documentation on data collection, data analysis, and data visualisation parameters that can be successful in the chiefdom setting, consultation requirements and processes with different stakeholders, the range of use cases relevant for a chiefdom setting, as well as time and cost estimations and projections for a scaled-up NANO scenario.

The team then hopes to move quickly to testing the tools and processes developed during the pilot in other settings (for example, with other chiefs and/or local government officials), focusing on the replicability of the NANO process, in particular exploring time, cost, quality, and data use dimensions.

Investment objective(s).

Develop a fully functioning Nano Information System in accordance with the local need to improve public service delivery and demonstrate it successfully in a Chiefdom while generating making available evidence and learning to scale the System and enable third-party replication.

Why we invested

  • Weak state capacity is arguably the biggest development challenge. Modern technologies present a great opportunity to use data as decision-support to improve quality of execution, an important dimension of state capacity.
  • An innovative approach to building information system using iterative adaptive learning processes and leveraging known predictors of success, which also helps frontline functionaries effectively address concerns of direct and day-to-day relevance to citizens.
  • Strong team with a good understanding of context and proven experience of Zambia, and beyond on user-based evaluation and monitoring systems, which also provide pathways to scale. Aligned with GIF on the mission to provide evidence and learning as a public good
  • Potential to improve the quality of GIF’s venture support by helping investees use an approach to use of data that can help improve operational efficiency and increase the likelihood of demonstrating success with execution.
  • Strong GIF additionality in working directly on state capacity improvements, and with local governments like traditional chiefdoms, both of which receive less attention and funding from mainstream donors and aid agencies.
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